For most people, making a positive impact on the developing world one toilet paper roll at a time may sound like the plot to a new superhero movie. For Simon Griffiths, Jehan Ratntunga and Danny Alexander it’s their day job.
What started with an idea that led to a crowdfunding campaign for Simon to sit on a toilet for 50 hours, has now formed ‘Who Gives A Crap'. The business donates 50% of their profit from every roll of sustainable toilet paper sold to WaterAid, who help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
StartUp Creative talked to Simon about how the simplicity of using an everyday utility became the foundation for ‘Who Gives A Crap.’
Who's behind Who Gives A Crap?
There are three co-founders in total. Jehan Ratntunga, Danny Alexander and myself. Jehan doesn’t work with us full time, he’s in more of a director and advisory role at the moment, but we have six full-time staff including Danny and myself.
How old were you when you founded Who Gives A Crap?
I was 27 when I first had the idea. It took another two years to get to the point where we could run our crowdfunding campaign, and another 8 months after that until we landed our first physical product.
What were you working in prior to starting Who Gives A Crap?
I studied engineering and economics at university, then briefly worked in a few roles before branching out to start something of my own. Prior to ‘Who Gives A Crap’ I was working on the opening of Shebeen, which is a non-profit bar that I still run today. The idea behind Shebeen is that we sell exotic beer and wine from the developing world and the profit from each sale is donated to a project in that drink’s country of origin.
What inspired you to create Who Gives A Crap?
Having spent a lot of time in the developing world we knew first hand that 2.5 billion people didn’t have access to a clean toilet. That's roughly 40% of the global population and means that diseases fill over half of sub-Saharan African hospital beds. These diseases kill 1,400 children under the age of five every day! We thought ‘Who Gives A Crap’ was a great way to use a product that everyone uses to help people in need and to do it in a really fun way.
How did you decide on the business name?
I had one of those business idea epiphanies: I walked into the bathroom, saw a six-pack of toilet paper sitting there and thought ‘That’s it! We sell environmentally friendly toilet paper, fund sanitation projects, and call it Who Gives A Crap’. I called three friends and they all said I had to do it. The rest is history.
The tagline “good for your bum, great for the world” is catchy and spot on with the brand. How did you form this?
We wanted a tagline that summed up:
- We were a high quality product
- Showed what we did with our money
- That we were willing to have a bit of fun
How did you come up with the idea of using a simple utility to get people donating to charity?
The idea of running a business to do ‘good’ seemed really natural for me, but when I looked around (back in the late 2000s) no one was doing it. I thought it was worth exploring further, so started working on ‘Shebeen’ and then ‘Who Gives A Crap’. Both of these companies are about working with everyday behaviour instead of asking people to change their behavior in order to be more impactful.
Have you always wanted to save the world?
Not really! As a kid I just wanted to make a buck, but as I grew older I realised that life was about a whole lot more than money. Once I realised that I could use my passion for business to change people’s lives, I knew that I was onto a winner.
Did you always want to work for a charity organisation as opposed to a mass-market corporation?
I tried working at a few multinational firms and realised it wasn’t the right fit for me at that point in my life. Then I back-flipped into the NGO sector, but found that wasn’t right either. What I do now is at the intersection of business and doing good, which is exactly where I want to be.
Crowd funding was a massive part in founding ‘Who Gives A Crap’, what are your tips for a successful crowd funding campaign?
Running a successful crowdfunding campaign is a lot of work! There are some great blog posts and articles that I’d recommend reading, specifically ‘Mike Del Ponte’s Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days,’ and ‘Lisa Curtis’ How to Crowdfund $50,000 in your Spare Time.’ Both of these were written after our campaign, but covered a lot of the things that we learnt when running our campaign.
How did you go about sourcing the workers?
We hire people who want to work in a team that inspires them and can push them further than they can go by themselves. When we do this everyone benefits, everyone gets the most out of their work and the whole team is happy.
What are your top three tips for young entrepreneurs?
- Make sure you’re solving a real problem. It’s easy to develop a product but if you develop a product that isn’t solving a genuine problem no one will use it.
- Stop talking, start doing! You’re never going to get anywhere unless you give it a shot. You should be able to find a way to test any idea in under two weeks for less than $1000.
- Fail quickly and cheaply, and then learn from what went wrong. Everyone fails, but each failure takes you one step closer to success. Learn how to fail without wasting too much time or money and be able to turn each failure into a learning experience.